Sahana Narayanan, 5th Grade
Living Wisdom School
If I were to change the world in one way I would give everyone on the planet a music education. Music education would help the world because when people learn to enjoy and appreciate music, then they can calm their minds. Music helps us look beyond ourselves. The sweet melodic tunes of different cultures bring inner peace to us in a unique way. And with this peace of mind, we stop thinking just about ourselves and start thinking about others. Music calms my mind in many ways. It helps me to concentrate. It makes me sensitive to others. It inspires me and makes me aware. If everyone had these benefits, then we could solve many of the world's problems such as poverty, war, violence, and global warming.
Music training improves concentration. And with better concentration, we could not only find out new answers to old questions, but also new questions that await new answers. In my violin class I have to focus very hard. If I don't concentrate, I can lose the whole flow. Each time I practice I find a new problem to solve. When one learns music, concentration becomes a normal part of your life. Just think if all of us had the opportunities to learn to focus the way that I have had through music. If we all did this, we could start the journey that awaits us of remaking earth by concentrating to help solve tough problems that we never even thought about.
We could understand the true beauty of other countries and avoid wasted wars. We would appreciate the melodies of Iraq, the elegant melodic pentatonic scales of China, the rich spiritual heritage of India, and the great rhythms of Africa. When I went to China about two years ago, I heard a certain five-note scale. I realized we South Indians call that scale "Mohana" Raga. We might be friends or enemies with certain countries, but really we are all the same like the Chinese scale and "Mohana" Raga.
But best of all music education brings me inner peace and inspiration. I sing South Indian Carnatic music, and the lyrics praise God. The meanings are usually something like, "Oh lord, you are the embodiment of good" or "you are the noblest of all." When I sing this music with understanding, it adds to my pleasure and gives me ideas to improve myself. Although the lyrics were written many centuries ago they can still help us today. People need this. When I sing a song with feeling, I reap much happiness and excitement. I wish that everyone could have this experience. If they did then people would be happier and it would give people the power to do what needed to be done.
As an Asian-American living in the bay area, I have had the privilege to learn not only the music of this land but also my ancestor's land. From this experience, I feel that music from here and all over the world can help us in making the world a better place.
Change in Me
Jalena Keane Lee, 8th Grade
Julia Morgan School for Girls
Friday October 3, 2008
"Aren't you excited for the dance tonight?" "I can't go. My mom is kidnapping me to Reno, for the last weekend to register voters."
My 80 year-old grandmother, cousin, mom and I embarked on a six-hour journey. During the drive, I daydreamed about the dance and what I would be missing that night. When we arrived at the Obama Nevada Headquarters, we were bombarded by a packed parking lot, a huge grey warehouse with a line of people waiting to sign in and receive canvassing packets. The smell of coffee and doughnuts filled the air.
After we signed in, we found seats and waited for the presentation. As I sat there boredom enveloped me. Looking around I saw peace posters and bicycles hanging from the walls, when suddenly I noticed hundreds of people had come into the room, larger than the 300 anticipated. Streaming into the warehouse were 1,000 eager campaign volunteers of all ages filled with excitement.
Standing in front of a large screen, the coordinator, a 26-year-old Caucasian man, with wire-rimmed glasses, and bushy facial hair, introduced himself, described the day and issued a challenge: Register 1,000 voters today - win Nevada for Obama, and he would shave off all his facial hair. People laughed and applauded.
We made arrangements for Grandma to stay at the headquarters to avoid all the walking and we set out to canvass. As we left, I looked back to see my grandmother standing in the middle of the crowd looking forlorn. She wanted to go with us and didn't feel like she would be of any use at the headquarters.
Off we went into unknown neighborhoods, at first it was intimidating to knock on stranger's doors, but I got the hang of it. House after house, we were greeted by Caucasian families, very different from my multicultural upbringing in Berkeley. It felt good to know that perhaps my mom and I were breaking the shy Asian stereotype for those people. We knocked on hundreds of doors, registered two new voters, and arrived back at the headquarters, exhausted.
During the time that we were gone, my Grandmother had organized a potluck for the 1,000 volunteers and everyone was asking her for directions. Our large family throws gatherings at least once a month so everyone knows how to cook, prepare food, prep a space, and organize a huge party. When the coordinator was making his final speech he singled out my Grandma to thank her. Then the staff asked us if we could bring her back every weekend!
The purpose of the event was to create community, let the volunteers have some fun and share inspirational and funny stories. One story stood out to me. The coordinator said, "Come share your story if this is the first time you've been involved in a political campaign." Most people were expecting a teen, but instead a 50-year-old father went on the stage and said, "I never strongly believed in politics, but when I saw how much Obama inspired my son, I knew who I would be voting for. My son is the one who arranged this whole trip, and signed us both up. I am so proud of him, and when I remember back to when I was his age, I wish that I could be as driven and responsible as he is." Every word conveyed how much he loved and admired his son. After he left the stage, the two embraced in a warm hug, and the dad whispered into his son's ear "I hope I didn't embarrass you up there" and the son responded with tears in his eyes "You did great Dad."
During the party there were a number of people sitting in the back room, typing up all the data that we had collected that day. Towards the end of the event the coordinator announced that not only had we matched the number of register voters, we topped it. All of us together had registered 1,200 people so the coordinator would be shaving. There were cheers, hugs and laughter all around.
This was the turning point in my trip; this was the change in me. I realized what a difference I was making and how important it was for me to be there. I registered two voters, I watched my Grandma, at 80 still ready to change the world, and I experienced a fantastic party filled with hope. I saw how much of a difference I could make. My sense of self and priorities had grown from my small school, to the broader world. By opening my mind I had a good time, and learned that I can change how I feel, just by letting go of judgment and experiencing the moment.
The World Chants: 'Yes We Can'
Arifeen Rahman , 9th Grade
San Jose, CA
Saint Francis High School
Change has never been a foreign concept to me. Since I was little, languages would swerve in an out of my tongue, combining, intertwining, and creating words and phrases even my parents had never heard of. Traditions would meld into a delightful potpourri. Eid was celebrated alongside Thanksgiving at my home; the
turkey held it place of honor right next to haphazardly stacked boxes of prized sweets. Change has always been fluid to me, an evolving force of silent renewal and growth. But now, change is different. It is revolutionary, quick, abrupt, empowering - shattering. I watched President Obama's election with fervor and the economy's death sentence with horror. The world is now amplified - each word ricocheting off walls of steel, each action spreading ripples across vast lakes of still water.
We live in a rare world today, tangled in a web of connections where information can travel from one end of the earth to another in a second. Yet, in many ways we are still so disconnected from one another. In today's world we seem to have forgotten our rare gift of empathy, instead lapsing into an apathetic state of thoughtless indifference. If I could change but one thing in this world, I would remove apathy from the human mindset.
The human ability to so strongly empathize with one another is distinctly ours - it is a gift to be treasured, and used to the utmost of our ability. Reverting to apathy means losing our humanity in the process. Our apathetic mindset is the largest barrier to solving the world's problems. Poverty and the environment are two issues that apathy has caused to spiral deeper into ruin.
The images of Dhaka, Bangladesh are vividly pressed into my mind from my visits as a child. The blaring of car horns mesh with the steady rise of exhaust from cars. Little scooters running on natural gas zip past tiny cars running on mixed gasoline and diesel. Ragged faces of young children peer in through car windows, begging for money. Not a single face turns to acknowledge them as they pass by.
The people are sedated, numbed by the everyday occurrence of such pain and suffering, that it no longer means anything to them. They are numbed by apathy. It is firmly in my belief that such horrors should no longer be mindlessly accepted. Every child deserves a home and an education. The upper and middle class must empathize with the less fortunate.
At the same time, apathy plagues the western world just as equally, if not more than the developing world. Landfills store plastic, waste, and garbage in pits of land. Excess almost literally defines our culture. Nothing can be reused more than once before being thrown away. Consumed with greed, companies obsess about short-term profit, forsaking the environment in the process.
In contrast, necessity has forced the developing world to reach environmental sustainability. Poverty has driven the poorest of these nations to become the greatest recyclers. In Dhaka, nothing is wasted. Plastic is a rare substance. Bottles are collected. Tin cans are crushed and reused. Piles of newspaper constantly renew themselves as new copies. Plastic bags have been banned to protect sewage pipes from clogging during flood season. Their empathy and depth of connection with the earth's resources has created a practical method of preserving the environment.
Many deny me my dream. They proclaim that changing an idea so abstract is impossible. This unknown substance, apathy, cannot be engineered and exchanged with a shiny replacement hot from the factory. However, the war on apathy can be fought on several levels, from local to global. I fight in the war against apathy every shift I volunteer at Agnews Developmental Center and El Camino Hospital. Every shift I complete brings me one step closer to understanding these new worlds.
As an Asian-American, change has always been fluid for me. I have never lived in one world, but a mixture of two seamlessly spun together. This is the world that I wish to show people. The true method to combating apathy is to open our eyes and to embrace a true connection of East and West, rich and poor, realizing the breadth of diversity that surrounds us. The true method is forming an interconnected realm, open to learning from one another.
In the future I see myself as a writer, a novelist, or a playwright. I believe that the power of the pen can completely transform the world. Real change is brought through words, pen on paper, that affect people so much more deeply - a connection on a deeper level than thoughts or looks.
The secret to defeating apathy is embracing change itself as a progressive force to better humanity. In hope, I move forward.
Carlo Acenas, 12th Grade
Burlingame High School
Diversity builds character. When someone shares in the culture of others, he or she becomes a part of the community. I learned this when I joined the staff of a local newspaper. As a photojournalist, I have tried to bring news to life with the emotional power of a photograph. Although I aim to connect readers to the story, I have covered some extraordinary stories that have enriched my own life, opening my eyes to the diversity in my community.
There was the youth poetry contest-a third-grade girl stood alone onstage, reading her tribute to "the King" who had a dream of equality. There was the war protest-a high school Spanish teacher, standing beside her daughter, held up a sign with the words, "Ceasefire now," calling for peace in the Middle East. There was Santa's Sleigh Ride-Saint Nick zoomed down the halls of a convalescent home, visiting residents on his Segway sleigh.
And then, there was the mosque.
When the editor-in-chief assigned me to photograph a religious service at the local mosque, I was treading in unfamiliar territory. It was the last day of Ramadan, and as a Catholic, I knew nothing about Ramadan except that it was a month when Muslims fast all day. The evening prayer began, and the worshippers knelt in two neat rows. When I listened to the worshipers deep in verse, I felt the devotion in their words. I hardly lifted the camera to my eye. After the ceremony, I asked them about Ramandan, and to my surprise, they invited me to eat with them as they broke their final fast. As we shared rice, they told me about how difficult it has become to be a Muslim in America, how the word "Muslim" has nearly become a conversational slur since 9/11. In that mosque, I realized the one thing in our world that needs to change.
Our world is diverse. But people are not always accepting. Even at school, people stare suspiciously at students with veils and turbans, and some people mock the Middle Eastern Club in casual conversation. My Muslim friends avoid publicly announcing their faith. I will never forget when I found Ms. Gorgani, a Persian, crying in her room. The flags of Iraq and Iran that hung in the halls during Diversity Week had been torn down and trampled. My experiences inspire me to defend diversity. Although I cannot cause intolerance to disappear, I can use my abilities to fight prejudice of all kinds in my local community. This semester for an English project I will photograph the daily lives of a number of students who come from different backgrounds. Some of these students emigrated from foreign countries, others have divorced parents, and a few live in foster care. In May, I will present my photographs to my classmates, with the hope that they will learn to appreciate our differences.
In college, I want to work for a closer school community. To do this, I will strive to create human connections between students, as I try to do at my high school today. In 2007, I started a club called the KARMA Initiative, whose premise was simple-share a genuine experience with someone new. To initiate such interactions, we carry out "missions" that let people be silly together. In one such mission called Mission Rainy Day Fun, club members used umbrellas when walking outside, even though the sun shined like the summertime. In many of our missions, we confuse many entertained onlookers, but we have fun with each other and recognize that we tend to let our differences separate us.
We all have a desire for companionship and compassion. Diversity creates opportunities to share both. In the next few years, I will meet many different people who will broaden my understanding of global diversity. A college education will give me new abilities that I can use to work for tolerance in my community. Even if the goal of tolerance seems unattainable, unconditional acceptance is worth a lifetime of work.